In the far southeastern region of Washington sits Walla Walla.
What stands out in Walla Walla is WINE, lots and lots of wine! Some compare the area to the Napa Valley in California or the Willamette Valley in Oregon, as there are now over 130 wineries and 2,900 acres of planted vineyards in six different districts, but there is so much more to do in Walla Walla than just taste wine!
Dinner and Drinks
Our first stop as we came into town was Hop Thief Taphouse and Kitchen to get some dinner and beer! This is a self-pour taphouse, a totally new concept for us!
After giving our server a credit card, we each received a Hop Thief pour card that allowed us to try as much or as little of our choice of craft beers, wine, kombucha, nitro coffee and cider. One entire wall is full of taps to choose from, and you only pay for what you pour!
It is a fabulous way to try out some “new to you” beverages. Do come hungry and bring the kids, as Hop Thief is family friendly, and they have a full menu of goodness! It was difficult to choose, but we ended up ordering and enjoying a pizza and roasted brussels sprouts.
Sightseeing on E-bikes
The next morning, wanting to see the area and get some exercise, we rented e-bikes at Allegro Cyclery. This is a full-service bike shop for rentals (regular and e-bikes), repairs, fittings and sales of all things bike related!
We chose a half-day rental, but they also have full-day and multiple day rentals available. The staff were so helpful and full of knowledge, and they sent us to Bennington Lake and Mill Creek for an absolutely gorgeous ride. We experienced paved, gravel, and dirt trails and our well-maintained, mountain bike style e-bikes handled all the terrain easily!
Walla Walla has done a great job to make bike riding on their roads a breeze with their large bike lanes that I was very grateful for! After our ride around the lake, and since it IS Walla Walla, we biked out to a lovely winery for a quick tasting and for a break before we returned the bikes.
Shopping and Walla Walla Farmer's Market
On Saturdays from 9:00am-1:00pm, starting in May and running through October, there is a Downtown Outdoor Farmer’s Market! Come November and December it moves inside. Many local artists, farmers, crafters, wineries, brewers and more fill a parking lot with their delights!
We bought fresh vegetables and even did a bit of Christmas shopping! We found prices to be very reasonable with an amazing variety of goods. If you go, look for Tikiz Wine Designs. They make custom wine barrel furniture at amazing prices!
You might also do a little wine tasting, craft beer tasting and even have lunch as there are multiple food vendors with fabulous lunch offerings! We got hot lunch wraps with chicken or steak and grilled veggies!
Though wine wasn’t our main reason to visit Walla Walla, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to go to the College Cellars, a teaching winery located at the Walla Walla Institute for Enology and Viticulture at the Walla Walla Community College.
It was super fun to be served by students who are excited and have a “thirst” to learn about all things wine, from the soil where the vines grow to bottling, to the science involved using new technologies while still embracing the “old world” way of making wine. We got a tour of the school where we saw the different steps of the process of wine making, including the students own experimental projects!
Many of their graduates go on to start their own wineries and become wine makers, which is quite impressive! After our tastings, we purchased some of their award-winning wines to share with friends back home.
Venturing Out to Milton-Freewater
Though technically not in the town of Walla Walla, Milton-Freewater, Oregon is only a 15-minute drive from downtown. It has been in the shadow of Walla Walla for quite some time, but it is now making a name for itself.
They have established the Whisky and Rocks Farm Loop and we visited four of the 25 different businesses on the loop. There are a variety of businesses including historic locations, sweets, wine, cider, farms, a nursery, overnight accommodations, a creamery, cheese and much more.
Petits Noirs Chocolates
Our first stop was at the charming Petits Noirs Chocolates located in a Craftsman style home painted bright cheery colors that is also James Boulanger and Lan Wong ’s home! They create their handcrafted chocolates, freshly made truffles, European style hot chocolates, butter toffee and more in their kitchen all while using traditional French techniques, with chocolate imported from France and combined with as many local ingredients that they can.
James and Lan’s specialty is pairing their chocolates with local wines. We tasted some lovely chocolates while visiting with James and he gave us some interesting history of the area and the wineries all while lovely old music played in the background rounding out an experience of all our senses.
Blue Mountain Cider
Wanting to try out a local cider company, we stopped at Blue Mountain Cider that was founded in 2003 by the Brown Family. They have 60 acres of cider-specific apples that they planted and committed to growing in a sustainable and wildlife safe way. I am always glad to hear a company make choices like these! We were a tad surprised that they do not do tastings, but we were not disappointed in the cider we purchased and sipped while there! We bought a few more bottles to take home with us and we enjoyed each one! I highly recommend the pear!
Walla Walla Cheese Company
Still in Milton-Freewater, a ”not to miss” location is the Walla Walla Cheese Company! This family-owned business makes artisan cheese and ice cream from local Jersey cows. They have no added colors or preservatives, so each batch is unique and they even partner with local companies to create some of their cheeses by combining flavors from breweries and ciders! The Cheese Cave was quite a magnificent sight with so many cheeses stacked and ready to go!
Needing lunch, we ordered grilled cheese sandwiches ($5!) with a choice of three different cheddars. A pesto sandwich and some meats are also available. A cup of scrumptious tomato soup ($2!) was added for a perfect meal. We saved a little room for a “flight” of four ice creams. If we had left more room, we could have done a “Taste the Case” and tried them all! The staff was amazing, funny and friendly and they completely obliged me to try their Crickets and Cream ice cream, making sure I got some roasted crickets on the spoon! You might even get a tour, just ask!
Dragon’s Gate Brewery Farmhouse Ales
Driving out into farmland, we found our way to the Dragon’s Gate Brewery Farmhouse Ales whose brewery and tasting room are in an old cow barn that sits on 10 acres. The owners Adam and Jennifer Gregory brew their Belgian style beers with hops from their own land! We enjoyed tasting many of their rotating seasonal beers while dragon and gargoyle sculptures carefully watched over us.
Their outside space is lovely with room to host a yearly Renaissance Fair and many other events. With names like The Arkenstone, Black Dragon and Blood of the Dragon you know each sip will be a full experience!
Walla Walla History Scavenger Hunt
The next day we wanted to learn more about the town and history of Walla Walla up close, and I thought a fun way to do that was to purchase a scavenger hunt from Let’s Roam.
With their app, they tell you exactly where to start, give some clues of where to go, what you are looking for, questions to answer and photos to be taken before they send you off to the next location. We found sculptures, historic buildings, got some treats and learned some history in a fun way! One tip: Be sure to spend a little time with the app before you go so you understand how it works. We would definitely purchase another scavenger hunt when we go to a new town and want to learn more about it.
Let’s Roam offers many activities worldwide for team building, date nights, family adventures, birthday parties and more, with both outdoor activities and virtual adventures you can do from home. Brother’s Mike and Charlie started something very fun and very creative!
We had a request from a friend to pick up a very specific treat at Bright’s Candies so we happily fulfilled her order! While we strolled the isles full of every candy you can think of, we smelled gourmet popcorn, the handcrafted fine chocolates and the confections that Bright’s makes using old family recipes starting back in 1934!
They even have a window to be able watch them make their creations! Buying a few pieces of chocolate to save for some wine and enjoying some ice cream, we could see why Bright’s was just voted 2023’s Best Candy Store in the US by USA Today! I am still regretting not getting some caramels!
Cedar Rain Spirits
Lunch was next, and seeing a sign for smoked brisket tacos, we stepped into Cedar Rain Spirits. We quickly realized that this was not just a smoked BBQ place, but it was also a distillery! Robert, co-owner with his parents, encouraged us to come back and try his dad’s slow smoked pork ribs, guaranteeing they will just fall off the bones, so we made a reservation to come back for dinner.
We not only had the ribs, but also the Texas Twinkies! Be sure to order them with dad Robert’s homemade BBQ sauce! Now, we were not only there for the BBQ, but also to taste their home-made vodkas and liqueurs. Oh, my goodness! We learned that mom had started making their flagship Traditional Coffee Liqueur over 30 years ago to take camping.
Over time, it grew into annual gifts to friends and eventually in 2019, son, Robert convinced his folks to open Cedar Rain! Dad’s smoked BBQ and mom’s liqueur was a perfect marriage, so to speak! They have created some amazing cocktails like a Green Tea Sour and a Cinnamon Toast all made with in-house simple syrups. Seasonal cocktails are also on the menu, and I wanted to try them all! Cedar Rain is amazingly family friendly, and they even have a kids’ menu!
There is so much more to do in Walla Walla than to just drink wine! Art galleries, a sculpture park, forts and museums, breweries, live music and restaurants await! It is time for you to book accommodations and go, adventure!